Califonia Bountiful

San Diego dairy is cream of the crop

Visitors discover new offerings at Van Ommering family farm

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Believe it or not, milk was the No. 1 agricultural product in San Diego County about a half-century ago, when more than 100 dairies dotted the county.

Dave Van Ommering's parents emigrated from Holland in 1956 and worked for four years at a dairy where Qualcomm Stadium now sits, then saved enough money to buy a 120-acre farm in Lakeside in the shadow of El Capitan Mountain.

Today, the Van Ommering Dairy, run by brothers Dave and Rob and their families, is just one of a handful of commercial dairy farms left in the county. The dairy business has all but disappeared as land became more valuable, forcing most dairies to close long ago or relocate to Central California.

Although the Van Ommering Dairy continues to produce milk—sold through a cooperative to processors for cheese, butter and milk powder products—the family has diversified the business in recent years. As part of their agritourism efforts, they also offer Oma's Pumpkin Patch in the fall and Oma's Christmas Tree Farm in the winter. But their biggest attraction is tours of the dairy to local schools as a way to educate both kids and parents.

There's plenty of fun to go with the education: The Van Ommerings built a mountain of cottonseed, where children can play and slide, which is similar to playing in snow without the cold. Later, the cottonseed is used as feed for the family's cows. In the dairy, there's a maze of hay bales and also a petting zoo with sheep and goats.

"You do constantly try to think of other possibilities to generate income for the farm," Dave explained.

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